Nature of Dorset; highlights January 2018

Whilst the short, cold days of January are not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of Dorset’s nature watchers it can limit their opportunities to get out and about! To be fair, of all the months in the year, January is often the quietest for surprises. Unless there is a dramatic weather event most birds are content to bide their time whilst they sit out the winter. The number of tweeted sighting was at a low point and only twelve species reported could be called really notable.

Once again, it was gulls that turned up the the most amongst the ‘top’ birds seen. The Boneparte’s gull that has been around for a while continued to make occasional appearances along with a few sightings of Iceland gull, Caspian gull and little gull. A glaucous gull turned up at Abbotsbury swannery looking very ill and it was suspected that it might be a victim of bird flu. It died after about three days there and on examination it was found to have a fishing hook in its throat preventing it from feeding. Such a sad end for a really impressive bird.

Away from gulls, the stilt sandpiper moved along the coast from Poole Harbour to Christchurch harbour and stayed there for a couple of weeks and the long staying lesser yellow-legs was seen for a few days mid-month. The local great white egret also made occasional appearances but the star must surely be the great northern diver that entertained the crowds in Poole Park for much of the month as it ate its way through most of the crabs inhabiting the boating lake. It was certainly more interested in the crabs than the people nearby photographing it. It must be the most photographed ‘diver’ ever!

Away from the coast hawfinches remained the main focus of attention with small flocks reported from various locations across the county. The numbers that have been seen this winter are almost unprecedented and for many ‘birders’ it has been a unique chance to add them to their county list, and in some cases to their life list. This was another species that generated a lot of really good quality photographs. A yellow-browed warbler spent a couple of weeks on Portland and firecrest continued to be reported from all along the Dorset coast.

Away from birds there was a record of a humpbacked whale off of Portland that seemed to be hampered by a lobster pot marker buoy it had become entangled in. The marine rescue service was scrambled to help it but I don’t think it was ever found. Otters continued to perform in broad daylight in the centre of Blandford and common seals popped up in Poole Harbour and off of Portland Bill. Towards the end of January came reports of adders and palmate newts emerging from hibernation and some ponds had frog spawn.

Although it is hard to believe that spring is not far away the first records of butterflies and moths started to appear as well as early bumblebees. Red admirals and buff-tailed bumblebees both ‘hibernate’ and will easily wake up and go foraging for food on warmer days. Some species of moth have an ‘anti-freeze’ in their blood and specialise in flying as adults during the winter.

You can get the full picture of the nature of Dorset in January here: https://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/records-diary/january-2018

Peter Orchard